Return of the Raven
Attempting to interpret and isolated chapter from a book or an isolated scene from a movie is not a recipe for success. Events viewed out of context are events without meaning. We are forced to read purpose into them based upon our own presuppositions, our own context. This is part of the reason why moderns have such trouble with the Bible. We have been taught to read it by an army of Andy Warhols, men with no sense of narrative. Placing an image outside its usual context renders it an open invitation for the reader to fill the hole with whatever seems right in his own eyes.
Recently, somebody on a forum asked what was going through Noah’s mind when he sent out the raven, and the question of whether or not the raven returned also came up. Was the raven sent first because it was unclean and therefore a less valuable animal to preserve for the new world? Or was it sent first because it was a stronger bird? Does the phrase “to and fro” suggest a single outward journey and return? Or did the bird not return, eating and resting upon floating corpses, as Luther suggests? All sorts of Jewish and Christian sources were quoted, but it seems to me that everybody missed the point.
The Church possesses the complete Word of God, and thus has a “bird’s eye view” of all Bible history. If we are open to the idea of one story being told over and over again in different ways, using different “raw materials,” we are not left helpless in pondering Noah’s possible thoughts. If the Spirit of God was at work, it is likely Noah was thinking God’s thoughts. But how can we know God’s thoughts? We can see the same action taking place in other places in the Bible, and the clue is not so much the raw materials as the structure, the “process” of God’s work in the world.
The chain of events in the Garden of Eden prefigures the annual feasts of Israel. This sevenfold pattern then becomes the first cycle in a history of seven cycles, taking us from Adam to Noah, from the beginning of the first world to the beginning of a new one.
In Eden, the Day of Atonement was the Spirit of the Lord “moving to and fro” searching for Adam and Eve “in the Spirit of the Day.” Blood was shed and the Land was rendered clean. Man moved from the Garden into the Land and began farming. In the greater pattern, the Day of Atonement is the flood. Once again blood was shed and the Land was rendered clean. This connection between eyes, ravens, obedience to God (Father) and the Church (Mother), and His subsequent blessing upon the Land turns up in some strange places. Here’s one that puts a Noahic spin on one of the Ten Commandments:
The eye that mocks a father
and scorns to obey a mother
will be picked out by the ravens of the valley
and eaten by the vultures.
The High Priestly rite of atonement, introduced many centuries later, is the same process in miniature. The urim and thummim, a white stone and a black stone hidden in the ephod, communicated the mind of the Lord concerning the offering. A white stone meant that the offering had been accepted and the Land was once again considered clean by the Lord for another year. (It is interesting that the Talmud records that a black stone was drawn every year after the death of Christ until the destruction of the Temple. )
In Hebrew, the word “redeemer” is twofold. It means both avenger and redeemer. The Lord destroys His enemies and rescues His people. So, the black bird is the eyes and mouth of the destroyer. He is unclean because he has the job of cleaning up the mess, eating death just like the serpent eats (Adamic) dust. The Covenant curse included being left unburied, exposed to be eaten by birds and beasts. (Note that similar words from the mouth of Goliath were what filled David with righteous indignation. Goliath was cursing the children of Abraham.) As the black bird moved “to and fro” like the eyes of God, scanning the face of the waters, so the white bird searched for a holy remnant of the old world to save and carry into the new: “The Branch.”
Not only can we read this dual act of blessing and cursing back into the history of Noah, we can read it forward into the book of Revelation, which takes just about every Covenant/festal cycle in the Bible and rolls them all together into an amazing tapestry of Israel’s history, one giant Covenant cycle, a wheel full of eyes.
Revelation 19 is the end of the story of two women, or rather, two sides of the same woman. The gospel of Jesus goes out as four horsemen and divides the Jews into two camps: those who received the Spirit (the Dove, like David) and those who rejected Him, and received an evil spirit instead (like Saul). The choice for the Jews was not, in their mind, a choice concerning God, but a choice concerning who was His representative. It was a choice between two kings, between Herod and Jesus, Christ and antichrist. This choice of who was their head was the beginning of a Covenant harvest cycle. At the end of the process, the body was divided. Or rather, there were two bodies. The holy remnant was a chaste bride and the rest of Israel was an exposed harlot.  Revelation 19 speaks of the harlot being eaten by scavenging birds while the true bride dined with her Bridegroom in heaven. The members of the true bride had been gathered and purified by the Dove, and she got to eat delicacies. The harlot had been dismembered, scattered into pieces , and she got to be a delicacy. It was much like the days of Noah.
Of course, the raven did return to his mate eventually. We still have ravens. And the Word of the Lord never returns to Him empty, even when that Word is a curse. 
 See A White Stone – 3.
 What is interesting is that both bodies, by the end, were Jew-Gentile combinations. Those who reject God’s temple inevitably do so by building a counterfeit. The New Covenant united Jews and Gentiles into one body of the Spirit, and the political harlotry of the Herods attempted to unite Jewish priesthood with Roman power through compromise rather than faithful witness. In the end, the Roman eagles circled the corpse, as Jesus predicted.
 We do see women dismembered in Covenant history: one the concubine of the unfaithful Levite (Judges 19); the other the tyrant Jezebel (2 Kings 9), who was dismembered and eaten by dogs while Jehu enjoyed a vengeance feast up in the palace. The Bride images always have to do with the gathering or scattering of the body, which puts an interesting spin on Paul’s description of the Church as a body. Is my assembly united in a the Spirit of holy compromise (i.e. humility) or unholy compromise? Who is the true Bride in the eyes of Jesus? We have the biggest “Church split” in history as our example.
 An interesting spin off is the question of whether the prophet Elijah was fed by ravens or by “Arabians” as the Talmud suggests as a possibility. The fact that the prophet, out in the world, away from the Covenant people, was being fed during a famine by unclean birds is a deliberate irony. Elijah was the curse, but while the grain of the old order was starving away, the “oil and wine” of the new would not be harmed. We see the same process during the first century, with Gentile churches supporting Jews during the famine resulting from the slaughter of Stephen (the shedding of innocent blood brings famine, going back to Cain).
ART: I Am Crow by Kirby Sattler, the inspiration for Johnny Depp’s unusual make-up in the new Lone Ranger movie.